I have had the privilege of being a speaker at many writer's conferences across the United States, and yet the questions are universal. I'd like to share the answers with you.
1. "What can I do to get published?"
The answer to this is: Do your homework. You need to read, read, read. Read all the HOW-TO books you can get your hands on. A few suggestions: Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books, Barbara Sueling's How to Write a Children's Book and Get it Published, Harold D. Underdown's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, or Lee Wyndham's Writing for Children and Teenagers.
Along with the HOW-TO books, you need to read books in the genre that you would like to write. Study the character development. Identify the tension used to build the plot. What did the author do to get the reader into the setting?
Attend conferences and workshops. Check your local Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' group. They usually offer conferences, workshops and critique groups in area. National SCBWI also offers two conferences every year. One is held in California in August, and a second conference is offered in New York in January. You can locate them on the web: www.SCBWI.org.
2. "Do I need an agent?"
I do not believe you need an agent. You can research possible publishers through the CHILDREN'S WRITERS MARKET. First look to see if the publishing house is accepting unsolicited manuscripts. This means that they are open to un-agented manuscripts.
But don't stop there. After finding a publishing house that looks like it might work for your genre and theme of your story, then look the publishing house up on the Internet. Research the editors. Check to see if they have a blog. This will help you find out: What else HAVE THEY published? What is their passion? What type of book is on their wish list.
Make a list of possible publishers and begin sending your manuscript out. Some publishers require that you submit only to them. This is called an exclusive submission. Other publishers will allow simultaneous submissions. Always make sure you keep a record of where you have submitted your manuscript and the date you submitted the manuscript and if it is returned. If you are lucky enough to get a personal note from an editor, send a thank you note. If they made a suggestion, get to work!
3. "How do I submit?"
After finishing your manuscript, it is important to have it critiqued by your peers or a professional. There are many authors and editors that offer critique services. Check your local SCBWI to see if there are members who have critique groups or offer critiquing.
Make sure your manuscript is perfect. Check grammar, spelling, and punctuation. When your manuscript is ready, you will need to write a cover letter.
Use a regular business letter setup. Your letter should be short:
Dear Editor's Name,
I have enclosed my 450-word picture book: NAME OF BOOK. Then add some information about your writing history: I am a former librarian and a member of the SCBWI Ohio chapter. I have been published in the local newspaper. Then thank them for their time and consideration.
Make sure your manuscript is in proper manuscript format. Type your name and information in the top left-hand corner. Put the word count on the right hand side, opposite your personal information. Halfway down the page, centered, put the title of your manuscript. Put your name below the title. Then begin your manuscript. It needs to be indented for every new paragraph. Your manuscript should be double-spaced. You will need a header starting on the second page. Your header should include your name, the name of your manuscript on the left side and the page number on the right side. Every succeeding page should have the header on the top.
Many publishers request a SASE (Self-addressed stamped envelope) so they can return your manuscript. Others say they will recycle the manuscripts, so you do not need to send a SASE.
4. "Do I need an illustrator?"
The answer is, no. Publishers have a stable of illustrators that they prefer to use. They know their illustrators are professionals whose work is consistent and produced on time. Let the publisher worry about the look of the book while you do everything you can
to produce a quality manuscript.
I'm hoping these answers help you to get your work ready for publication!